It's a regular weekend sight everywhere around Southern California. Cyclists in colorful jerseys racing up and down the foothills, riding along busy streets and bike paths, circling the Rose Bowl and challenging their abilities with rides in the Angeles and San Bernardino national forests.
Some of the best cyclists in the world will experience some of those same roads starting Friday. That's when the ninth annual Amgen Tour of California enters Southern California for its final three stages in its eight-day tour.
"The sport is growing by leaps and bounds in America," said Texan Lawson Craddock, who is among the tour's leaders. "There are at least 20 grand tour stage winners in this race. It's really strong and it tells you how much people love and think of this sport in America. It's getting a lot more exposure."
The 710.2-mile road race has arguably become the best in the U.S. The famed Giro d'Italia is running concurrently and numerous Tour de France winners, including 2012 champion Bradley Wiggins, multi-Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish and two-time reigning Tour de France sprint champion Peter Sagan have opted to compete in California.
"I've witnessed the development (of the Amgen Tour of California) from a very good start to an awesome event every year so I come back," said German Jens Voigt, 42, who is the oldest rider in the race.
The sixth stage starts in Santa Clarita on Friday with a 94.4-mile race from old town Newhall to Mountain High's 7,200-foot North Resort. The cyclists return to Santa Clarita on Saturday with a Town Center Mall start and 88.7-mile ride over the Angeles National Forest to Pasadena City Hall. It is the sixth time in the last seven years that Santa Clarita has held a stage, and the second consecutive year the city has held two stages in the same year.
The final race of the event, Stage 8, will feature a three-loop 76.1-mile race starting at Townsgate Road in Thousand Oaks and going through the Santa Monica Mountains.
The Santa Clarita stages start at 11:45 a.m. and the Thousand Oaks stage starts at 8:45 a.m. Stages 6 and 7 should finish at about 3:30 p.m. and Stage 8 at noon. There will be festivals and exhibits at both the start and finish lines.
"We're lucky enough to have two stages just like last year," said Russell Sypowicz, an economic development associate for Santa Clarita. "Based on our location, the community's general interest, having it is nothing but a positive experience."
The Pasadena finish will be at City Hall for the first time. Riders will cross the Colorado Street Bridge and have three circuits through Old Town.
"It's going to be a very busy day and obviously warm," Pasadena Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO Mike Ross said. "Going to Old Pasadena was the whole goal. The idea of bringing it to downtown with the shops and restaurants is exciting."
Before Saturday's race finish, all cyclists can ride, skate or walk on the 2.7-mile circuit course from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Kaiser Permanente Ride, Roll and Stroll.
"One the biggest requests our fans make year after year is the opportunity to ride on the Amgen Tour of California course like the pros," said Kristin Bachochin, the executive director of the tour and the senior vice president of AEG Sports. "This year in Pasadena, they'll get to do just that."
Thousand Oaks city manager Andrew Powers said that he expects between 20,000 and 25,000 people in the start-finish area on Sunday.
"We think six times around on loops is much more enjoyable for the fans," he said of the stage, which will be broadcast on national TV by NBC. "We have been stressing to get there early and to plan ahead because parking will be at a premium."
Friday's stage will start in Newhall for the first time. It will feature four King of the Mountain races within the stage, Bouquet Canyon to Spunky Canyon and Mount Emma to the mountaintop finish. There will also be a sprint race from Leona Valley to Palmdale. Saturday's stage has sprints in Acton and the Old Town circuit course and King of Mountain races from Millcreek Summit to Upper Big Tujunga Canyon. Sunday's stage has sprints at the start-finish line and King of the Mountain competitions at the Rock Store climb on Mulholland Drive.